Who’s Shameless?

A Las Vegas-based company finds a way to monetize public arrest records

You’ve seen the billboards for Las Vegas-based Cheaterville.com, a site that helps protect the sanctity of marriage and promote monogamy by giving bandwidth to people who want to publicly humiliate the sluts, pigs and home wreckers who’ve done them wrong. Any entertainment value derived from the website is purely coincidental.

As noble as that is, it isn’t Las Vegas’ only virtual contribution to a virtuous society; there’s also WhosArrested.com, a site that promotes public safety and welfare by posting the names and mug shots of people who’ve recently been arrested. Any entertainment value derived from the website is purely coincidental.

We are nothing if not magnanimous.

Based in Las Vegas, WhosArrested scrapes data from government websites in select counties in Nevada, Florida, Texas and Arizona. If you live in Clark County, for example, just click on the Clark County link and up comes a helpful tally of how many people the cops have nabbed this week, their names and what they’re charged with. Links at the bottom make it easy to search for your target’s name on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter and even MySpace for those hopelessly-behind-the-times arrestees. There’s a space for mug shots, but they’ve come up blank in Clark County. WhosArrested also keeps a running score of the most popular crimes here. Battery (domestic violence) is kicking ass this year, with burglary a distant second.

WhosArrested.com apparently assumes—probably correctly—that part of its audience consists of the arrested folks themselves: That explains the invitation in a blue box on the site: Targeted advertising for bail bondsmen, attorneys. Learn more today. Advertise with us.

But what about the ordinary, non-arrested citizens who find their way to the site? What are they to do with all this information? That’s the grand question of the Internet, of course. After you’ve searched the names of your boyfriend, landlord, boss, etc., it’s mildly entertaining to scroll through mug shots (from other counties, where the feature works) and gaze upon the hapless faces of those caught up in the legal system. Why is it that everyone going to jail seems to be having a bad hair day? And there’s a modicum of reassurance in the evidence that the cops are doing something besides hiding in the bushes looking for speeders.

Still, so what? Crime happens. And all this information is easily available at the Clark County Detention Center’s own website, where you can type in the name of your boss, landlord, girlfriend, etc., and find out what they’ve been popped for.

But you have to look deeper into the site to discover the real genius of WhosArrested. There, in the FAQ, you’ll find a service they call “anonymization.” If you land on their website through an encounter with Southern Nevada’s finest, WhosArrested will be glad to make your name disappear … for a fee. They make public information sexy and salacious, then pimp their site via social media. When, much to your chagrin, you wind up on WhosArrested—which just may be popular with your potential employers—all you have to do is pay the town crier not to mention your misdeeds. It’s a little like hush money, and it’s a brilliant, if cringe-worthy, business model. The possibilities are endless: WhoHasntPaidTheirPropertyTaxes.com, WhoDonatedtoHarryReid.com and BankruptcyCourtLosers.com.

I wanted to ask the entrepreneurs behind WhosArrested how much it costs to get anonymized, but unlike the folks at Cheaterville.com, they’re media shy. They don’t appear to have a business license in Clark County, the physical address they listed with the Nevada Secretary of State’s office is for a mailbox store, and they don’t respond to e-mails or phone calls. It’s almost as if they’re ashamed of having figured out a way to monetize shame.

They shouldn’t be. It’s a very Las Vegas way to make a buck.

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